Facing up to Change

22 May

Fairly early on in my research career I designed a model for capturing the reasoning people applied to make sense of an initiative, change project, anything that involved moving from A to B. The model had to be very simple because quite often you don’t get very long with respondents (they’re busy) and the model had to be used effectively by non-researchers to do research (spreading limited resources). This was the reality of contract research-tight deadlines, scarce resources and a lot to do. However, the model proved pretty effective in creating a simple picture of how well a person, organisation, or environment would be dealing with future or current change. The model I produced was called the Beliefs, Barriers and Control (BBaC) model, and applied three simple steps which I’ll outline below.

The first stage, Beliefs, was a series of questions which drew a picture of the respondents world view; what the respondent thought would occur when X happened, how they would cope, what values they associated with objects and projects. The second stage was Barriers, and was focused on how rigid the beliefs were, and how world views contradicted the perceived goal of a change programme; this stage was basically looking at contradictions between beliefs and how they might clash. Finally was Control, which sought to capture the tactics, resources, strategies respondents felt were available to them to reinforce their own beliefs. Overall, the model provided a useful picture of how well a person, an area or an organisation would deal with change and a challenge to their existing worldview. I’ll give you an example below.

Imagine a hospital that adopts this worldview-hit target at any costs. The role of care becomes a threat to this mind set as it can contradict the dominant goal of achieving targets; for example, quite often providing excellent care means authorising procedures which take a department over budget, which in turn means a target is not achieved. As a result, delivering care begins to cut corners; the target driven mind set digs in and defends itself with a range of tactics- leaning excessively on statistical performance measures, tightening procedures, processes and discipline to the point of stifling any insight, initiative and eventually compassion. In this environment small errors will accrue, but the barriers put in place to defend the world view keep them hidden. To an outsider casually looking in, all they see is great looking performance targets. This example is a rigid set of Beliefs, Barriers and Controls, ready to shatter any minute.

If you’d like to measure the flexibility of your own worldview, you can apply a version of the model using these questions-

When you have a new idea, plan, strategy etc. who do you ask first for feedback?
When your beliefs are challenged how do you react?
When you’re challenged, how do you use data, information, procedures, rules and regulations?
When did you last let a strongly held belief go?

If you’re asking only people who are likely to approve your ideas first (because of your relationship with them, their time constraints, they are always positive etc.) then this can reinforce your beliefs quickly and could potentially make them defensive. This feeds in to the second question, do you instinctively defend? Do you view opposing worldviews as threatening or challenging? When you are being challenged, how do you use data, procedures, rules etc.? Do you use them to reinforce your beliefs, to point out errors in other beliefs? Or alternatively, do you use data to proactively challenge and test your beliefs, to look for new insights? Finally, how often do you let go of something you were heavily invested in? This is incredibly difficult to do on the psychological level but essential for resilience, innovation, and recovering from surprise, unexpected events.

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